The last 30 days have seen a rapid escalation in the number of questions, concerns and assumptions about the composer unionization effort. As the Association of Media Composers and Lyricists (AMCL) pushes hard to create a viable composers union, it is critical that the group’s decision-making process come out from behind the closed doors of AMCL Board Meetings and operate as a transparent and fair process for making decisions about the group’s goals, direction and operations that is inclusive, not exclusive.
While some industry social groups can be run by “invitation-only” boards that conduct closed board meetings, a composers union is a much different organization that, through its very existence, will divide our industry into union and non-union composers. Every composer in the industry has a vested interest in the outcome of AMCL decisions regarding eligibility, dues, working conditions, health insurance, benefits and much more. The situation cries out for transparency and accountability, if for nothing else to lend legitimacy to the proceedings and ensure proper representation for and accountability to composers at all levels of our industry. Simply put, we cannot run the composers union like a country club where you’re “invited” into the decision-making process if “they like you.” That kind of personality politics has no place in a serious industry trade organization.
Speaking of legitimacy, I’m hearing the term “working composer” being used more and more to define who should be eligible to be a member of the composers union. But the term “working composer” means different things to different people. A composer in Tulsa who works full time writing music for libraries that appear on network TV can be just as easily called a “working composer” as one who lives in LA and writes a library of music directly for a sitcom or reality series. Our industry is evolving quickly, and we must recognize that today, music is hired, licensed, and used in very different ways than it was only 10 years ago. Our union must be a forward-looking organization that embraces technology and the changes in business and creative practices that technology has created.
We have enough organizations in our industry that conduct their board meetings in secret and hand down edicts to us once they are decided by the chosen few who are “invited” to participate. These organizations often work hard to avoid any personal accountability of board members by keeping board minutes secret and creating election rules that massively favor incumbents. This is exactly the road we must not go down with the composers union…
* It’s time to create a truly inclusive organization with levels of membership and board representation for composers at various levels of the industry. The alternative is multiple competing unions and associations (student composers union, library composers union, low budget film composers union, etc) which makes no sense and is counterproductive. Let’s create a big tent and be inclusive to build a single, representative organization with strength in numbers.
* It’s time to realize that establishing fair working conditions and eliminating demands for free music are just as important (if not more important) to some subsets in our community as health insurance and pension are to the group currently running the AMCL. Composers are not a one-size-fits-all group, and different groups within the industry have different needs and priorities that an inclusive composers union should strive to address as is reasonable.
* It’s time to realize that the AMPTP is only one of the many organizations and groups that influence the hiring and pay of composers and are deserving of a relationship of some kind with the composers union. I’m not saying that the AMCL can or should be everything to everyone, or that all relationships must be built at once, but by the same token the AMCL should not limited to only one agenda to serve one group or level of composers in the industry. Negotiations with the AMPTP are likely years away, and there’s no reason not to pursue constructive, beneficial relationships with other important industry groups like the WGA that are in a position to deliver immediate, real benefits for composers in terms of better hiring practices and workplace conditions.
* It’s time to realize that if we have built strong, productive relationships with other groups (such as other unions) before we get to the AMPTP bargaining table, we will be in a stronger, more established position when it’s time for AMPTP bargaining, even for benefits-only.
* It’s time to open up AMCL board meetings to any and all who wish to observe the decision making process, and to give interested composers at all levels of the industry a reasonable and representative voice in AMCL decisions as they happen, not after they happen.
* And it’s time for the leadership of a composers union to actually represent the diversity of composers with music in film and television today. This means opening up the “invitation only” mentality and having the maturity to work with and allow dissenting points of view from those who are passionate and motivated.
The benefit of more open communication and an open decision-making process will be the elimination of so many of the assumptions, often incorrect, about what the AMCL is up to and how they intend to go about creating a composers union. After decades of no representation in the industry, we need and deserve an open, transparent and accountable organization that composers across the industry can be proud to be a part of, having had a hand as they wish in the creation, direction, and goals of this organization. The time for transparency is now.